OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the Los Angeles Lakers lost yet another hard-fought game to the Golden State Warriors to end the toughest four-game stretch the NBA has seen in three seasons, Lonzo Ball found himself sharing another moment with one of the game's best players.
And then Durant told a national-television audience just what he thinks of the Lakers' other standout rookie, Kyle Kuzma.
"Kuz is a problem," Durant said. "I like him."
After giving the Warriors a scare and erasing a 23-point third-quarter deficit, the young Lakers lost yet another tough fight with the defending champs, as Golden State won its 11th straight game with a 113-106 win at Oracle Arena on Friday night.
While the Lakers (11-19) lost for the fourth time in five games, Kuzma and Ball are starting to play their best basketball of the season. And some of the biggest stars in the game from James to Durant are noticing.
Ball is beginning to hit his perimeter shots with confidence, knocking down his first four 3-pointers before finishing with one of his best scoring performances of the season: 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. He also had five rebounds and five assists.
Don't look now, but Ball is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists while shooting 31-for-66 (46.9 percent) overall and 16-for-34 (47 percent) from 3-point range over his past five games.
"He likes to shoot against us," Warriors coach Steve Kerr cracked. "Apparently he can't shoot against anybody else, but he shoots against us."
Kuzma followed up his career-high 38-point game against James Harden on Wednesday with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Kuzma is averaging 27.5 points in his past four games and he has buried 14-of-22 3-pointers in his past three. In scoring 25 or more points in three straight games, Kuzma joined Lakers legends Elgin Baylor and Jerry West as the only rookies in franchise history to do so.
"Just getting more and more confident," Kuzma said. "I feel like every shot I take, I can make. That is just my mentality. I like playing big games. The past three games have been pretty big."
The Lakers lost at Cleveland last week, lost to Golden State in overtime on Monday and stopped the Rockets' 14-game winning streak in Houston on Wednesday before falling at Golden State. The combined .787 winning percentage of those opponents entering Friday made this the toughest four-game stretch for any NBA team since the Spurs played four straight against teams with a winning percentage of at least .700 in 2014-15, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But the Lakers have relished playing the elite teams, especially on a national stage. Three times this season, they've made the Warriors (26-6) work much harder than they should, taking the champs to overtime the first two times before making them sweat again at home.
Each time, the Warriors needed a superstar effort in the clutch to fend off the Lakers and got it. For the second time this week alone, Durant did that. After scoring 36 points and hitting the game-winner in overtime to spoil Kobe Bryant's jersey night Monday, Durant had 33 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks Friday.
This game was supposed to be over with 8:21 left in the third quarter when Golden State led 71-48 and looked as if it would cruise. The Warriors were without Stephen Curry, but got Draymond Green (13 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists) back from a four-game absence because of a shoulder injury.
But the Lakers did what they've done for most of this season and fought and competed. The Lakers used a surprising 41-17 run to erase the lead and take an 89-88 lead with 7:43 left after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Julius Randle hit consecutive 3s. After playing a total of eight minutes against Houston on Wednesday, Randle played angry and was a force with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
"We were down by like 20 in the third, [Kuzma] told me I am about to start going," Ball said. "And I said, 'I got you.' "
The Lakers got a glimpse of what their future could be when Kuzma and Ball play well together at the same time. Kuzma hit 6-of-8 shots and scored 19 of his points while Ball made 5-of-7 shots and had 12 points in the second half. The Lakers' highly-touted rookies forced the Warriors to have to play if they didn't want to suffer the same fate Houston did against Los Angeles.
The Lakers snapped the Rockets' 14-game winning streak in Houston and was looking to halt Golden State's double-digit streak and become only the third team in history to snap double-digit win streaks in consecutive games, done only by Orlando in 2010-11 and the Lakers in 1996-97.
But the 6-foot-9 Durant stood in the way.
While he scored only seven points in the fourth, he just kept making winning plays. Three of his blocks came in the final seven minutes when the game was on the line, including two in the past 55 seconds.
Durant came up with a terrific help block on Brandon Ingram at the rim, knocked down two free throws, and he and Jordan Bell (20 points and 10 rebounds) blocked Randle twice inside to preserve the Warriors' winning streak.
For the Lakers, it was yet another gut-wrenching loss after clawing their way back to the final minutes only to watch a team with a veteran superstar make the right plays. But each defeat to an elite team like Golden State only continues to build the Lakers' confidence up.
"We want to model ourselves after Golden State," Kuzma said. "It is no secret. Luke [Walton] coming from there, our personnel, our versatility, we want to be like them. It is going in the right direction for sure."